Having spent a fair amount of time visiting farms in Europe, I can vouch for the fact the telehandler has become nearly as common as the regular ag tractor on farms there. Farmers, often cramped for space, value the material handling ability of these machines in everything from loading grain to stacking bales.
And for several years now, Italian company Merlo has been offering its Multifarmer line of telehandlers, which push the capabilities of those machines quite a way into the realm of the regular ag tractor — while keeping that superior ability to lift and place loads well beyond what an ag tractor is capable of.
For at least the last decade, Merlo and other brands — JCB the most notable among them — have been working to impress North American farmers with the telehandlers their European cousins have valued for years. And with some success, apparently. Executives from more than one of those brands has told me they are slowly gaining ground in that effort.
Recently, Merlo added more power and lifting capability to its Multifarmer line in an effort to deliver a telehandler hybrid that appeals to an even larger group of Canadian farmers, the 40.9 model, which bumps PTO horsepower up to 156 and can lift a load of 4,000 kilograms to 8.8 metres. It can also safely reach that load out horizontally 5.8 metres.
“This machine is an amazing chore tractor. It’s not just a hay stacker,” says Joel Smit, the brand’s Western Canada rep. “It has 156 horsepower on the PTO. You can hang 15,500 pounds (7,030 kilograms) off the three-point hitch arms.”
Could a telehandler be a fit for your farm?
That rear PTO, auxiliary hydraulic remotes and three-point hitch make the Multifarmer a relatively unique machine. It’s a kind of hybrid blend of a conventional telehandler and regular MFWD ag tractor. The question Merlo and other brands are asking western Canadian farmers is this — is that ag tractor with front-end loader making you as efficient as you could be?
For many, the answer will be a clear “yes.” But there is a growing segment of Canadian producers who might find the telehandler as indispensable as European farmers do. The challenge for Merlo, says Smit, is making potential customers aware of what the Multifarmer can do.
“It’s hard breaking through paradigms and pre-conceived concepts of how you need to do a task,” he says. “We’re approaching farmers in a different way, educating them in the machine’s capabilities outside of stacking hay and letting them come up with ideas of how handy it is and how many applications it has on a farm.
“Guys say I don’t need to lift 9,000 pounds in the air — I don’t have anything that heavy on the farm. And we agree. But that capability allows you to move your round bale feeders 20 feet away from all your paddock fences, instead of getting out of your tractor, opening the gate, driving in and closing the gate behind you. You can boom out and drop that bale in the feeder (over the fence) without ever having to get out of the machine.”
And the low-profile design of the Multifarmer means getting in and out of the cab is much easier, something that might appeal to an aging demographic.
“It’s only two steps to climb up (into the cab) instead of having to climb way up into a front-wheel assist tractor when all you’re trying to do is hit the PTO plunger to turn the auger on,” Smit adds. “A lot of farmers we’re selling these machines to are buying them for the compactness. They love the versatility. They can get into it with maybe a half step more than getting into their pickup truck.”
Two series in the line
And Merlo builds a wide range of other telehandler models, too. Smit has been promoting the larger 65.9 as an alternative for large-scale operators who have previously opted for light construction loaders.
“In the ag-centric world, we’ve got a new 65.9 machine,” he says. “Which is meant to attack the compact payloader market that is popular in Alberta.”
In all, the Merlo Multifarmer line offers two series — the 34 and the 40 with two models each. Those machines give producers a choice of 3,400- or 4,000-kilogram lift capacities, which can reach from seven to nine metres at maximum height, and they offer power levels from 136 to 170 engine horsepower. To run implements, they use a load-sensing hydraulic system with up to four rear remotes that offer an ample 150 litres per minute flow rate. And a couple of four-wheel steering options make them much more maneuverable than an ag tractor.
Operator comfort is high on these machines, too, with a suspended cab to even out the ride. Maximum travel speed is 40 kilometres per hour, which makes them useful for pulling heavy wagons on the road.
Merlo is continuing to expand its dealer network in the Prairies, and it’s also in the process of setting up service locations through existing businesses to ensure there is a broad support network across the region.
Says Smit, “One thing we’re focusing on now, too, is adding service locations to the provinces where we don’t think we need a sales presence. That will really help us manage customer expectations, (providing) the things that will get you back into service quickly. We wanted to make sure we have strong credibility in the service area before we expect customers in all areas of the province to have (a machine).”